An ordinance that would have banned the possession of marijuana in Astoria parks was sent back to staff after city councilors said they were not sure what problem the rule was trying to solve.
While marijuana is legal in Oregon, it remains illegal to smoke or consume in public. Astoria already restricts alcohol — with some exceptions — as well as smoking and tobacco in city parks.
At a City Council meeting Monday, Police Chief Geoff Spalding said modifying the rule to prohibit possession of marijuana in parks was a logical step given the rise in cannabis products and use. Astoria has seven businesses with active marijuana retail licenses.
“I think the thought behind it is it’s one more tool the officers have,” Spalding said.
People with medical marijuana cards would have been exempt.
Mayor Bruce Jones supported the proposal, comparing it to the city’s ban on alcohol in city parks, but other city councilors were not convinced and questioned the need for the modification given the ban on smoking.
City Councilor Joan Herman said her biggest issue with the proposal was that state law allows people to possess marijuana.
“Obviously if somebody is flashing their vape pen or whatever around and they’re clearly ingesting (marijuana) obviously then, I think, you could cite them,” she said.
City Councilor Tom Brownson called the rule “one of those funny kind of slippery slope-y kinds of things.” If Spalding could point to specific instances where the possession of marijuana was a growing problem in city parks, Brownson said he could be convinced the city needs a new rule.
But right now, he said, “I don’t buy it.”
Other councilors and residents worried the rule would unfairly target specific populations, such as the homeless, who carry all their possessions with them. Spalding assured them that this was not the intent.
“I think what we’re all struggling with, chief, is trying to understand what problem we’re trying to solve with this,” City Councilor Roger Rocka said.
The City Council asked Spalding to return with specific examples of marijuana-related problems in city parks. The council will revisit the rule modification at a future meeting.
With less debate, city councilors unanimously agreed to hold a first reading to modify an ordinance regarding public consumption of alcohol.
Spalding pointed to a marked increase in public intoxication and people drinking in public. The modified rule, which would apply citywide, would make it illegal to possess an open container of alcohol in public locations — a rule some of the city councilors thought was already in place.
The rule would allow for certain exceptions, for example, at “movie in the park” events where beer is sold as a concession.
As city rules stand now, police officers can only cite someone if they witness the person drinking from an open alcohol container.